Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Max’s 1st Update: Adventures with Jack, Dragon Boat Races, and Starting Classes

大家好,Hello everyone, I am Max, a rising Junior at the Elliott School currently studying Chinese in Taipei thanks to the help of the Sigur Center’s Grant for Chinese Language Study in Taiwan. Before I begin, I want thank the Sigur Center. I will cherish this experience forever, and am excited to share it with all of the Asia on E-Street readers over the next two months.
I’ve been in Asia for just over three weeks now. Before I arrived at the National Taiwan University (NTU), where I will study this summer, I had an unforgettable ten days with my closest friend and older brother Jack. Together, we traveled through Tokyo and Taipei - two cities with diverse neighborhoods, historical sites, and cuisines.

In Tokyo, Jack and I enjoyed wondering through mellow districts, like Taito where we stayed, and boisterous places bloated with people, like Shibuya. 

In Taipei, our experience was a bit different. As far as we could tell, the city is lively both day and night. Admittedly we preferred nights because of the night markets (夜市 - yeshi). For anyone visiting Taipei, or Taiwan for that matter, these winding streets filled with food, shops, and lots of locals are a must. Our favorites were Raohe, Tonghua, and Keelung (a 40 minute train ride from the city).

Jack at Raohe Night Market
Jack at Keelung Night Market

One wonderful thing about Taipei is that the city is surrounded by mountains! Whether it was at Yingmanshan National Park, Xiangshan trail (or elephant mountain), and Maokong, Jack and I always seemed to snap a great shot of the city, or the back of each other's heads... 
View from Yangmingshan (陽明山)
View from Xiangshan (象山)
Jack's head on the Gondola to Maokong (貓空)
 My head on the Gondola to Maokong (貓空)

Nonetheless, visiting two capitals of two countries rich with history, we found no shortage of memorizing museums and timeless shrines & temples to fit into our itinerary. In Tokyo we made sure to see the Shinjuku Temple and Meiji Shrine. 
Shinjuku Temple
The Meiji Shrine from afar
Additionally, while in Taipei, we marveled at the National Palace Museum’s collection of ceramics and scrolls, the Mengjia Longshan Temple, and the Chiang Kai-Shek Memorial Hall.
The National Palace Museum
Mengjia Longshan Temple (艋舺龍山寺)
Chiang Kai-shek Memorial Hall

Lastly, food in both cities brought copious amounts of joy to our taste buds. In Tokyo, friend and fellow GW colonial Morgan introduced us to Okonomiyaki, commonly described as a Japanese pancake, as well as something very new to the Jack and I, conveyor-belt sushi. 
Morgan making Okonomiyaki
Conveyor Belt Sushi (image courtesy of http://pheebzeatz.com)

In Taipei, we gobbled up 小籠包 (xiaolongbao -steamed pork soup dumplings) at the very famous Din Tai Feng restaurant. 
delicious 小籠包

We also ate delectable 刈包 (guabao - steamed buns filled with pork belly, peanut shaving, and greens) at a spot that, for better of for worse, is a minute walk from my dorm!
刈包 near my dorm (photo courtesy of http://studymandarinintaipei.blogspot.tw/)

After my best friend and food finding companion went back home, I moved into my new dorm. I’ve also found new buddies, place to explore, and yummy food to eat. In fact, this weekend was the Dragon Boat Festival (端午節), so a few friends and I went to the Taipei’s very own to watch some races.
Dragon Boats

As my first time seeing dragon boats, I must say that a few hundred meters of intense rowing and drum playing (to keep paddler’s stroke) seems very fun, but also very difficult. After the festival, we found a place near our dorm to try the holiday specialty, 粽子 (zongzi - glutinous rice filled with meat, bean curd, or other fillings that is steamed wrapped in bamboo leaf). The particular 粽子 I ate was of the pork variety, which made it, like all things pork related here in Taipei, super tasty.
Nonetheless, while I have spent plenty of time enjoying Taipei, I also just finished my first week of classes at NTU's International Chinese Language Program (ICLP). In the best of ways, the program is very intense. The coursework is rigorous, pace is quick, classes are at largest four students, and on the ICLP premise I must only speak Chinese. While it has only been a short time, I am quite confident that this sort of atmosphere will make for a very productive next two months!

Until the next update.

From Taipei,

Max Grossman, B.A. International Affairs and Geography 2017, 

Sigur Center 2015 Chinese Language Fellow, 

National Taiwan University, Taiwan.

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